Stolen Yemeni stele returns home [Archives:2005/896/Culture]

November 21 2005

Yemen has regained a fertility deity after 11 years of absence. The antiquity, stolen during the 1994 civil war, has arrived in the country recently. quoted well-informed sources as saying that the stele is one of significant Yemeni collection of antiquities.

The carved slab of alabaster that has survived centuries of wear, a civil war, and looting from Aden museum has been returned to home after surfacing at an auction in the USA last December.

A repatriation ceremony took place at that time at the headquarters of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security in Chelsea. The artifact was officially signed over to the Yemeni ambassador last December.

The piece, known as the South Arabian Alabaster Stele, depicts fertility goddess Dat-Hamim in bas-relief on a foot-high tablet. It is estimated to date from 300-400 A.D. The stele was stolen in July 1994 from the Aden Museum during the cessation war.

The recovery of the artifact followed a lengthy investigation. In May 2003, British Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents learned that the owners of Phoenix Ancient Art, antiquities dealers with galleries in Geneva and on the Upper East Side, had consigned the piece to Sotheby's for auction with an estimated sale price of $20,000 to $30,000. Phoenix's owners, brothers Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, had told

the auction house that the piece came from a private English collection. In their research to prepare for the auction, Sotheby's staff discovered that the stele was photographed and documented as a part of the Aden Museum's collection. Immigration and Customs agents confirmed that the stele was stolen and issued a seizure warrant in September, 2003.

While the stele was valued at tens of thousands of dollars, it is considered to be a priceless artifice. “It's much more than that